On Friday, Mark Zuckerberg announced that he would be taking a two month paternity leave after his wife, Priscilla Chan, gives birth to their daughter.
This announcement brought my own pregnancies back with a flash, and I remembered how excited my husband Ivan and I were when we found out we were expecting our first child. We were also more than a little bit nervous about being parents. I was a full-time UCLA student who also worked a full-time job in retail. Ivan, who was then working in film production, worked 70 to 80 hour weeks. Would we be able to do this parenting thing?
Fortunately, back in those days we were in the rare position of having enough money saved so that Ivan could dedicate a few months at home with the baby and me. But a few of his friends were shocked. One guy, a father of three, was totally gobsmacked. “I have to be honest,” he told us, “the baby years are the last time you need to be home with your kids. There’s not much for a dad to do with a newborn.”
His friend turned out to be wrong about dads and babies. My husband thoroughly enjoyed those months at home with our son, and their bond was immediate and undeniable. No doubt Zuckerberg is hoping for the same thing for his new little family, too.
In his announcement, the Facebook founder said, “Studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families.” He also puts his money where his mouth is, offering Facebook’s U.S. employees up to four months of paid maternity or paternity leave.
Scott Behson, author of The Working Dad’s Survival Guide believes that Mark Zuckerberg, along with some of today’s other young CEOs, are sending an important message “about the importance of fatherhood relative to business, and how an involved home life goes together with financial success.”
Rob Watson, Senior Editor at The Good Men Project, agrees with Behson and adds that this is especially important for two-dad families, where maternity leave is obviously not an option. Watson notes that the benefits of paternity leave “will extend into the lives of children, their parents, and the parents’ employer. In two dad households this is foundational and [especially] needed.”
Whit Honea, father of two and author of The Parents Phrase Book, took paternity leave, but had to head back to work sooner than he was comfortable with. “It became very clear, very fast, that a few weeks, even a few months, were not enough time at home during such an important stage of the baby’s life or my wife’s recovery.”
“When our second son was born,” Honea explained, “I quit my job and found a way to work from home, because life is about priorities, and the kids are mine. I think there are plenty of other parents who would agree.”
This may be shocking to parents who subscribe to the traditionally gendered expectations of parents, but there’s nothing revolutionary about dads loving their kids, even teeny tiny newborn babies. And beyond the benefit to the baby, there’s a benefit to moms and other parenting partners who need to head back to work quickly, knowing that their newborns are home with loving daddies.
So congratulations to Mark Zuckerberg, who will be joining the ranks of dads around the world, including Prince William, in cherishing time at home with their newborns. Now, if we can only get our government to follow Zuckerberg’s corporate lead in guaranteeing all parents are given paid family leave when a baby is born …